How Alpine has to hit back after CEO Rossi ripped into F1 team


Last week Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi tore into his F1 operation. Harsh as it was, how can the team hit back and appease the boss?

Pierre Gasly Alpine Miami GP

Alpine is yet to deliver on car's promise

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Laurent Rossi’s comments last week caused a bit of a stir, and if you’re reading this you probably have already cast your eye over some of the apparent catalysts for his outburst on this very site.

You might also have seen some revisions to the piece I’d written after Alpine felt I unfairly included some team failings in a way that appeared to place the blame solely on team principal Otmar Szafnauer, rather than explain how it would have been a tough 18 months for anybody in that position. So for those points I apologised and made amendments.

Aside from it only being fair that I point that out to anyone who hadn’t noticed a few tweaks to the existing column, it also highlights how the team was caught off-guard by Rossi’s comments and understandably had to go a bit defensive. Because let’s be honest, whether Alpine has disappointed or not in your view this season, the CEO’s comments do seem premature after five races that could have turned out very differently.

But any defensive spell is over. The big question now is how does Alpine hit back to appease the main man in charge?

Pierre Gasly Esteban Ocon Alpine Bahrain GP

Both drivers could do more to maximise performance

Well, despite Rossi saying the drivers “are doing their share of the job, we owe to them and Alpine a higher level of performance,” Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly can certainly help.

There were signs of them doing their part in Miami, but the costly collision of Melbourne cannot be repeated when there is such a big result on the table, and similarly both have had their fair number of mistakes in the first five races.

It’s perhaps Ocon who has been slightly more underwhelming of the two so far this year. The established Alpine driver hasn’t put himself into a position for big points so far, whereas Gasly – despite being new to the team – was right in the mix in Melbourne before his late error, and similarly ran fourth for a spell in Miami before slipping back to eighth at the flag.

But in calling him underwhelming, there’s a sign of the expectations and what Ocon has shown himself to be capable of prior to this season. Going toe-to-toe with Fernando Alonso with an impressive level of regularity last year gave Alpine confidence it still had a strong benchmark within the team, and it just hasn’t clicked for him in 2023 yet.

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You could argue the same for the team as a whole. The times the car looks strong, it’s nearly on the pace of a Ferrari or Mercedes, but the results haven’t translated. That’s perhaps where Rossi was at his most harsh, not acknowledging the potential in the machinery, but then it could also be the catalyst for his frustration that it has gone unfulfilled.

Last year, Alpine’s development rate kept it clear of McLaren and it was mainly reliability that prevented that team from pulling away comfortably in the fight for fourth overall. With a car that is more competitive out of the box, it has so far missed the chance to put a healthy gap between itself and its main midfield rival, so either needs to do so quickly or match that improvement curve with the car performance.

Both would obviously be preferable, especially if it moved Alpine into the fight with some of the teams ahead of it on more occasions. Because otherwise its points return is going to be limited, and even the slightest mistakes in modern F1 are being heavily punished, as has been clear in the first five rounds.

If Alpine’s car is fifth quickest and everyone performs to their respective maximums, then ninth and tenth – three points – is all that’s on offer. Failing to produce that makes it hard to score points, especially when pretty much every other team on the grid can be a threat on a day one gets it all together perfectly.

Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon’s Alpines collide at Albert Park

The pink flashpoint. Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon’s Alpines collide in Melbourne

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And that’s why all of the above items can have such a major impact, even if they seem slight. Failure doesn’t have to be judged on massive mistakes anymore, but small ones that will prove costly.

One area where Szafnauer’s influence was felt last season was in the way he facilitated an efficient and regular upgrade schedule, something that the team needs to keep delivering on this year. If Rossi’s frustration was at the first five races then one remedy will be consistently adding performance, with more new parts planned for Imola – if the weather allows – after the recent update in Azerbaijan.

Mercedes and Ferrari are currently tantalisingly within reach on certain circuits, but have yet to be beaten. And according to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, both underdelivered this season rather than his own team making major steps forward. So if the Mercedes update which was due in Imola – or more significant Ferrari parts in Spain – start to rectify that deficit, it’s going to be tough for Alpine to keep up without its own development being more effective.

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The knock-on impact then is getting the most out of each race weekend becomes even more important. It was something Alpine did well last year, with reliability often scuppering promising positions, but this year Rossi’s quotes have shown just having the potential isn’t good enough in his eyes.

It did feel far too early to be making such comments, but from here if the results don’t improve then Alpine’s CEO has given himself the ability to say he delivered warnings if he then makes changes, or if they do become more consistent then he could try and take some of the credit.

Neither would be particularly fair but they’re the cards he’s put on the table, and they make the team’s next moves even more crucial. Red Bull, Mercedes and even Aston Martin – don’t forget how underwhelming last season was – have shown that it takes time to evolve into a championship-winning team, the former two taking until their fifth seasons to put up a serious challenge.

Red Bull now sets a standard that is out of reach to Alpine this year, but the three chasing teams are not, and while that might be described as progress internally, fighting with them on a regular basis would be the best way of responding to Rossi’s disappointment.

Esteban Ocon Alpine Miami GP

Ocon in particular has struggled

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In reality, that’s a big ask. Ironing out those costly mistakes on multiple fronts in the first five races will at least give him less to criticise, and buy the team time to try and prove it is still building towards that success.

“Every race we must make progress,” Rossi said back in 2021 when announcing the 100-race project for being a frontrunner that takes the team up to the end of 2025. “It can be progress you see on the track or progress you don’t see, all the little details. The idea is to never stop – and be able to see we’re going in the right direction.”

Those quotes weren’t unreasonable, and provide a blueprint that isn’t unrealistic for Alpine to deliver against. Given the weather situation, if the race goes ahead in Imola then it could be fraught with trip hazards, but get the little details right from this weekend onwards and there will be even less grounds for a repeat of the Miami outburst.